A RED BANK CHARITY CELEBRATES 35 YEARS OF PROVIDING “HELP FOR TODAY AND HOPE FOR TOMORROW” FOR THE CITIZENS OF MONMOUTH COUNTY AND BEYOND
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
In the spring of 1983, in the basement of Red Bank’s Saint Thomas Episcopal Church on Sunset Avenue, nearly three dozen community volunteers, led by Norma Todd, gathered for the first time to serve hot lunches to members of the community in need. At the end of the day, they packed up their supplies and the leftover food, cleaned the premises, and went home only to return the next day to set up and serve all over again. The charitable meal service, which became recognized throughout Monmouth County as Lunch Break, continued operating this way for a few years, moving from the church to a temple on Bergen Place in 1985. Then, in 1986, with the aid of a grant from the state of New Jersey, the philanthropic organization secured a dedicated location on Red Bank’s Drs. James Parker Boulevard. Lunch Break, on a mission to provide hope and food for the hungry, was officially in full swing.
“Being able to give is a gift,” said John Klein, the president of the nonprofit’s board of trustees. Today, the organization serves more than 73,000 meals each year and offers 30 programs that provide assistance in a variety of areas, from clothing to mentoring to life skills. Five years ago, Lunch Break launched a client choice food pantry, allowing participants to come in two to three times a month to pick and choose the foods they need. The pantry now gets more than 10,000 visits a year.
“The pantry is really incredible,” offered Klein. “It’s like going shopping, except it’s free. We used to give out a bag of groceries each week, but now families come in and they can pick what they need.”
Klein and his wife have called Monmouth County home for two decades, and both have been active in local charities and philanthropic initiatives for many years. Klein, a Wisconsin native, first became involved with Lunch Break when his niece, who was visiting for Thanksgiving 10 years ago, expressed an interest in volunteering at a soup kitchen for the holiday.
“We called Lunch Break and prepared a bunch of meals for the holiday,” he said. “We’ve been involved ever since.” Not long after Klein served his first charity meal, the real estate developer joined the organization’s construction committee and assisted on an expansion initiative. In 2015, he became a member of its board of trustees. Just two years later, he was named board president.
“The organization is so much more than a soup kitchen,” he explained. “The place is like a community center; it’s rocking six days a week.”
The basic mission is to provide food, clothing, life skills, and fellowship to those in need in Monmouth County and beyond. The process has two parts. First, Lunch Break provides immediate help through food, clothing, toys, and other forms of assistance. But it also provides “hope for tomorrow” through life skills, mentoring, and job assistance programs. The life skills program has grown substantially over the past 10 years, and its success and measure of community support can be attributed in large part to the efforts of the organization’s executive director, Gwendolyn Love.
“We are always looking to help people get out of poverty,” said Klein. “And much time was spent in providing help for today, but about 10 years ago, we started to expand a lot of these services that we had already started, and now we have diverse programs in place. So many people come out to help, and Gwendolyn Love has been a big part of that.”
The guiding vision of the “hope for tomorrow” effort is taking strides to break the cycle of poverty. One area that has become an increasingly vital component of the life skills program is offering support to clients in search of a secure job. A new facility, only a few miles from the organization’s primary location, is opening its doors to help Lunch Break clients find steady and stable work in the community.
“One of our biggest steps forward,” said Klein, “is to help people find and hear about jobs. It’s a way we are going to take our ‘hope for tomorrow’ to the next level, and we have a lot of people to thank for this.”
As the programs continue to expand to offer new and different services, the organization has become able to ask volunteers which areas they’re most interested in helping out in. On any given day, Lunch Break can expect approximately 40 to show up to assist the 22 staff members. Those numbers continue to grow.
“You can really see the fruits of your labor, because it’s in your backyard,” said Klein. “You can see a kid get a toy who is just beaming.”
The arrival of the holiday season brings with it a popular calendar of events for the charity, including a massive toy drive in which thousands of Monmouth County residents come together to donate toys and clothing. On December 8, to benefit the charity, more than 1,000 runners adorned in red and white Santa suits will gather in Asbury Park to race in the famous Santa Run. Eleven days later, the East Coast band Brian Kirk and the Jirks will play the Count Basie Center for the Arts for its annual SANTA FOR event, which this year will benefit Lunch Break.
Once the holiday season has passed, the 35 year old charity will continue its continuous efforts to provide relief. Its food stock up program officially kicks o in the spring, but as Klein pointed out, donations continue all year with people stopping by to hand deliver cans and dry goods. The nonprofit also collects clothing (including prom dresses and formal wear) throughout the year, and is able to provide more than 9,000 articles of clothing annually. That number is getting bigger each year.
“It’s vitally important to help…to do what you can for the people in your community,” said Klein. “What makes Lunch Break so special is the respect and dignity it fosters. It’s a community center and a place where people feel comfortable and respected. It just makes it that much easier to help get them back and get them going.”
121 Drs. James Parker Boulevard, Red Bank / 732.747.8577 /